As part of the social science activities in the SAFE FOODS project, social science researchers want to know:
- How the current food risk management practices are perceived by various stakeholders
- Which factors drive consumer confidence in food risk management
For this purpose, SAFE FOODS has a multi-phase research programme, employing mixed methods in five European countries:
SAFE FOODS researchers have examined how key stakeholders perceive both the practice and effectiveness of food risk management. The objective of this study was to identify similarities and differences in perceptions held by consumers and experts with an interest in food safety. Initial research used focus group and follow-up interviews to identify key factors in the evaluation of food risk management practices. Data were collected in Denmark, Germany, Greece, Slovenia and the UK. The results indicate that, whilst there are some similarities between consumers and experts regarding what constitutes good practice in food safety management, there are also differences that need to be addressed if consumer confidence in risk management is to be strengthened (Houghton et al., 2006; van Kleef et al ., 2006).
Both consumer and expert participants believed that good management involved the development and maintenance of systems of control over hazards and that risk managers needed to be proactive in preventing the development of “food crises”. They also emphasised the importance of timely and appropriate risk communication. Some differences in perceptions were also found. Expert participants were generally more positive about existing food risk management practices, although they did identify a number of shortcomings or constraints. This study identified several important factors in the evaluations of food risk management, indicating a need to integrate societal concerns and values more efficiently into risk assessment and risk management procedures, as well as a need to optimize risk communication based on this type of knowledge (van Kleef et al., 2006).
Based on the results of the previous qualitative studies, a survey was developed to model the factors that drive consumer evaluations of food risk management practices and their relative importance. An additional aim of the present study was to assess the extent to which these factors are subject to cross-cultural variation in different European member states (Germany, Denmark, United Kingdom, Slovenia and Greece). The questionnaire was filled out by over 2500 respondents in these five countries and showed that consumers’ evaluations of food risk management practices are dependent on several factors, which include proactive consumer protection and trust in the expertise of food risk managers.
Next, information experiments were carried out to check the impact, when doing risk communication, of different factors that affect the perception of food risk management practices. The factors were pointed out in the previous study. With this information a survey was presented to 1600 respondents. The results will provide the knowledge for formulating risk communication strategies that will boost consumer confidence in food safety.
What are the implications of these results? How can this information be used to improve food safety risk analysis approaches?
The outcome of these studies has implications for the development and implementation of new risk management policies. There is a need to integrate societal concerns and values more efficiently into risk assessment and risk management procedures, as well as to optimize risk communication based on this type of knowledge. Proactive communication with relevant end-users - including consumers - about emerging food safety problems, may increase confidence in risk management practices. These outcomes have been incorporated into the new SAFE FOODS risk analysis framework, representing a substantial part of the input in the model.
SAFE FOODS overall objectives
- To understand consumer perceptions, attitudes and beliefs regarding food risk management
- To understand differences between consumers, experts and decision-makers regarding their perceptions of food risk management
- To identify strategies to communicate uncertainty and variability in risk assessment
- To provide recommendations for better food risk analysis that can be included in the newly proposed SAFE FOODS Risk Analysis Framework.